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Disease Profile

Olivopontocerebellar atrophy

Prevalence estimates on Rare Medical Network websites are calculated based on data available from numerous sources, including US and European government statistics, the NIH, Orphanet, and published epidemiologic studies. Rare disease population data is recognized to be highly variable, and based on a wide variety of source data and methodologies, so the prevalence data on this site should be assumed to be estimated and cannot be considered to be absolutely correct.


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Europe Estimated

Age of onset





Autosomal dominant A pathogenic variant in only one gene copy in each cell is sufficient to cause an autosomal dominant disease.


Autosomal recessive Pathogenic variants in both copies of each gene of the chromosome are needed to cause an autosomal recessive disease and observe the mutant phenotype.


dominant X-linked dominant inheritance, sometimes referred to as X-linked dominance, is a mode of genetic inheritance by which a dominant gene is carried on the X chromosome.


recessive Pathogenic variants in both copies of a gene on the X chromosome cause an X-linked recessive disorder.


Mitochondrial or multigenic Mitochondrial genetic disorders can be caused by changes (mutations) in either the mitochondrial DNA or nuclear DNA that lead to dysfunction of the mitochondria and inadequate production of energy.


Multigenic or multifactor Inheritance involving many factors, of which at least one is genetic but none is of overwhelming importance, as in the causation of a disease by multiple genetic and environmental factors.


Not applicable


Other names (AKA)



Nervous System Diseases


Olivopontocerebellar atrophy (OPCA) is a term used for a progressive condition characterized by the degeneration of nerve cells (neurons) in specific areas of the brain.[1] OPCA can be viewed as a finding of several diseases, and indicates a form of progressive ataxia (abnormal or uncontrolled movements) distinguished by characteristic findings in brain imaging studies and at autopsy (pontine flattening and cerebellar atrophy). It was traditionally divided in hereditary or genetic OPCA and sporadic OPCA. Currently, most of the major forms of hereditary OPCA refer to disorders that overlap with spinocerebellar ataxia (SCA), which is a neurological disorder characterized by ataxia. The sporadic forms are considered now to be a form of multiple system atrophy (MSA).[1] OPCA may also occur in people with prion disorders and inherited metabolic diseases.[1] The main symptom is clumsiness that slowly gets worse. Other symptoms may include problems with balance; speech or swallowing problems; difficulty walking; abnormal eye movements; muscle spasms; and neuropathy. Whether OPCA is inherited (and the inheritance pattern) depends on the underlying cause, if known.[2] There is no cure for OPCA, and management aims to treat symptoms and prevent complications.[1][2][3]


Olivopontocerebellar atrophy (OPCA) can occur in association with disorders caused by inherited genetic mutations (hereditary OPCA), or it can be sporadic. Many specific genes have been identified for the genetic forms, although exactly how each genetic abnormality leads to the specific symptoms of OPCA often is not known.[4] Sporadic OPCA refers to disorders for which there is not yet evidence of a hereditary component or genetic cause.[2]

The subtypes of hereditary OPCA and their genetic causes (when known) can be viewed in tables on Medscape Reference's website here by scrolling down or clicking on "Tables" in the left-hand menu.


A diagnosis of olivopontocerebellar atrophy (OPCA) may be based on a thorough medical exam; the presence of signs and symptoms; imaging studies; various laboratory tests; and an evaluation of the family history.[2][3]

MRI of the brain may show characteristics of OPCA, such as specific changes in the size of affected parts of the brain.[3] This is more likely as the disease progresses; it is possible to have OPCA and have a normal brain MRI (especially within the first year of symptom onset).[3][4]

Hereditary OPCA may be suspected based on having a family history, and may be diagnosed by genetic testing (when available) for the condition suspected or known to be present in the family.[2] Sporadic OPCA may be diagnosed if hereditary forms of OPCA, and other conditions associated with OPCA, have been ruled out.[2]


Support and advocacy groups can help you connect with other patients and families, and they can provide valuable services. Many develop patient-centered information and are the driving force behind research for better treatments and possible cures. They can direct you to research, resources, and services. Many organizations also have experts who serve as medical advisors or provide lists of doctors/clinics. Visit the group’s website or contact them to learn about the services they offer. Inclusion on this list is not an endorsement by GARD.

Organizations Supporting this Disease

    Learn more

    These resources provide more information about this condition or associated symptoms. The in-depth resources contain medical and scientific language that may be hard to understand. You may want to review these resources with a medical professional.

    Where to Start

    • MedlinePlus was designed by the National Library of Medicine to help you research your health questions, and it provides more information about this topic.
    • The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) collects and disseminates research information related to neurological disorders. Click on the link to view information on this topic.
    • The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) has a report for patients and families about this condition. NORD is a patient advocacy organization for individuals with rare diseases and the organizations that serve them.

      In-Depth Information

      • Medscape Reference provides information on this topic. You may need to register to view the medical textbook, but registration is free.
      • The Monarch Initiative brings together data about this condition from humans and other species to help physicians and biomedical researchers. Monarch’s tools are designed to make it easier to compare the signs and symptoms (phenotypes) of different diseases and discover common features. This initiative is a collaboration between several academic institutions across the world and is funded by the National Institutes of Health. Visit the website to explore the biology of this condition.
      • PubMed is a searchable database of medical literature and lists journal articles that discuss Olivopontocerebellar atrophy. Click on the link to view a sample search on this topic.


        1. NINDS Olivopontocerebellar Atrophy Information Page. NINDS. April 16, 2014; https://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/opca/opca.htm.
        2. Olivopontocerebellar Atrophy. NORD. 2012; https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/olivopontocerebellar-atrophy/.
        3. Joseph V. Campellone. Olivopontocerebellar atrophy. MedlinePlus. July 27, 2014; https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000758.htm.
        4. Christina J Azevedo. Olivopontocerebellar Atrophy. Medscape Reference. November 11, 2014; https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1151013-overview.

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